Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Petco Park, San Diego: A Beautiful Place for a Ballgame

Mrs. Kosher Hedgehog and I slipped off to Coronado for a three-day, two-night R&R, and on Monday evening enjoyed seeing the hot Chicago Cubs (sounds like a contradiction in terms, no?), the winningest team in baseball, take on the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. My wife routed for the Cubs, and that was not problematic, as the Cub fans in the stands probably outnumbered the Padres fans in a sparse (by Dodger Stadium standards) crowd of about 31,000.

This was my first visit to Petco Park, and despite the name of its primary corporate sponsor, it is not a doghouse. To the contrary, it is a singularly pleasant place to see a ballgame. Like the ballparks in Phoenix and Baltimore, Petco Park is situated smack dab in the middle of downtown, adjacent to the San Diego gaslamp district, and a short walk from the Convention Center, the Bay and the major downtown office buildings. A redcar trolley stop serves the park (and the freight lines run by the park as well, so that the fans are occasionally treated to the whistle of a passing train accompanied by the clanging of the RR crossing signals.) There is direct access into the ballpark from the Omni Hotel and, it appeared to me, from at least one office building as well. As is the case with Wrigley Field, windows in other nearby office buildings and hotel rooftops over free views of the ballgame.

Adding to the "Wrigley Feel," and the deliberate "retro" design concept of Petco Park, the party suites overlooking left field have the facade of an old building, "The Western Metal Supply Company," a hundred-year old brick structure that had been scheduled for demolition to make way for PETCO Park, but was saved and incorporated into the design of the ballpark. Each suite accommodates about 20 people, and your party guests can watch the game from their seats on the "balcony" or go inside to watch on the close circuit television over the bar. the Western Metal Supply Co. building.

Another unique aspect of the Petco Park is the "Park at the Park", a grassy berm sloping above the outfield fence, which is open during game time, allowing fans to sit and watch games for a small price of $5. When no games are being played, the Park at the Park serves as a free local park for area residents. During our game it appeared to me that hundreds of families were sitting on blankets on the grass, enjoying picnic dinners and watching the game either over the right field fence or on the close circuit screen on the back of the scoreboard, facing the green expanse. The Park at the Park is also graced by a statue of one of my all-time favorite players, Tony Gwynn.

Mrs. Kosher Hedgehog and I purchased two upper infield reserve seats, directly behind home plate, for $19.00 ($13.00 for a senior 60 or older). Even from this highest level of the very intimate feeling park, we felt we were very much into the game, and close to the field.

The outfield has a wonderfully irregular shape, again part of the retro design of the park. For example, while the fence is 396 feet to straigtaway center field, it is 402 to left center and right center. Down the left field line, the field measures 334 feet from home plate, while it is 322 feet down the right field line. Apparently the designers threw away their tape measures as well as their surveying equipment when they laid out the playing field.

Either those irregular dimensions, or slow outfielders, may explain why we witnessed so many extra-base hits in a single game: 5 doubles and two triples! Hit balls kept finding the gaps between the fielders and rolling on as if it were a weekend softball game.

The Cubbies triumphed in a 7-6 pitchers' duel. The winning pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, pitched far better than the score might indicate. Relievers allowed half of the Padre runs. Zambrano himself played like a Babe Ruth throwback. He went 3 for 3 at the plate, including a RBI triple. He is batting .350, frequently pinchhits, and is the best-hitting pitcher I have ever seen.

There is an awful lot to do on a summer evening in San Diego, but if the Padres are in town, and playing a night game, consider an evening within the intimate confines of Petco Park.


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